The impact of home on health: the truth of the matter
Research is continuing to strengthen the case that the quality of our built environments plays a critically important role in our overall physical, mental, and social/emotional health.
- As both a physical and setting for social health, it’s likely that the quality of our built environments (like home) makes up more than 50% of the determination of our health (alongside lifestyle choices, medical care and genetics)1.
- Housing quality is related to the likelihood of contracting cardiovascular disease and communicable disease transmission (tuberculosis, for one). Indoor pollution such as chemical off-gassing of products and mold represent other hazards to health.
Interestingly (and tragically), even a personal lack of personal control over the built environment may increase the risk of death from heart disease.2 This suggests we should be examining ways to provide enhanced choice and freedom in homes, whether this be selection of neighborhood (a long-standing problem) or at the micro level, options for personalization inside a home—such as shelves for family photographs. Such seemingly simple features may in fact be health-promoting and fully worthy of our attention.
These notions impact us all, but they are especially real for people that experience poor housing that may be in a dangerous neighborhood, have a leaking roof, a poorly maintained air conditioning unit, or lend a sense of crowding that increases stress.
In our culture that takes great comfort and confirmation from quantitative metrics, architectural and interior designers must confidently and consistently make the case that built environment, including home, matters to our fundamental health and wellness— and then design these environments armed with empirical and other knowledge to best provide the health support people deserve.
Design Resources for Homelessness is a non-profit organization dedicated to informing design choices for homes, shelters and other settings that people recovering from trauma require. Learn more at designresourcesforhomelessness.org
1Tarlov, A.R., Public Policy Frameworks for Improving Population Health. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1999. 896 (Socioeconomic Status and Health in Industrial Nations: Social, Psychological, and Biological Pathways): p. 281-293.
2World Health Organization. 2010. Equity, social determinants and public health programmes. WHO. Erik Blas and Anand Sivasankara Kurup (editors), ISBN 978 92 4 156397 0 Retrieved from http://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/10665/44289/1/9789241563970_eng.pdf
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